Lent 2008: March 2008 Archives

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Numbers 21: 4–9
Psalm 101: 1–2, 5–17, 18–20 (R. 1)
John 8: 21–30

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The Serpent and the Cross

Today the Church gives us a passage from the Book of Numbers that, from earliest times, the liturgy and the Fathers have associated with the mystery of the Cross. This same passage provided Father Luc de Wouters, O.S.B. with the title of his biography of the foundress of the Congregation of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified, Mother Marie des Douleurs Wrotnowska: Le Serpent et la Croix, The Serpent and the Cross.

The Bite of the Serpent

Father Luc writes: “The episode of the bronze serpent recounted in the Book of Numbers seems to us extremely significant. It projects onto the mystery of the redemptive Cross a light, the importance of which we do not sufficiently grasp.” He writes that Mother Marie des Douleurs encountered the Cross, as we all do, in her own sin. For her, as for all of us, sin was the bite of the fiery serpent. It was, nonetheless, upon this cross, the cross of her own brokenness, weakness, and sin identified with the Cross of Jesus, that she was united with the Saviour, l’Homme des douleurs. The cross of her disfiguration by sin and weakness, assimilated to the Cross of the “Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Is 53:3), became the Cross of her transfiguration by grace.

The Mystery of Iniquity

Father Luc, with no little eloquence, emphasizes that the Cross is the last word of the Incarnation. We are certain of meeting the Cross at every moment of our existence. Whenever we find darkness all about us, the darkness of our own sins and of the sins of the world, the Cross shines like a saving beacon. Personal sin causes an intimate anguish that only the Cross can alleviate. Consciousness of the evil that inhabits us, and of the evil that stalks the world, brings with it a terrible anguish. Our Lord’s agony in Gethsemani was the manifestation of the anguish of His Heart in the face of the mystery of iniquity.

Wounds Uncovered

It is easy to become hypnotized by the shadow of evil cast by the serpent. How many souls, instead of lifting their gaze to the Crucified, turn in on themselves, see their sin, and sink in the quicksand of despair. Sin, our own sin and the sin of others, exercises a morbid fascination on us. The remedy is to look upon “Him who they have pierced” (Jn 19:37), and to believe in the love of Jesus Crucified. The remedy is to expose our wounds, however purulent and shameful they may be, to the wounds of the Crucified, for “by his wounds we are healed” (1 P 2: 24). One of the prayers before Mass in the Roman Missal has us say: “To thee, Lord, I uncover my wounds; to thee I lay bare my shame. My sins, I know, are many and grievous; they fill me with fear, but my hope is in thy countless mercies.”

Lazare, veni foras!

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Caravaggio's Resurrection of Lazarus depicts a dead man stunned by his sudden return to life. The head of Christ is the very one Caravaggio painted in his Calling of Saint Matthew, but here it is reversed.

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Fifth Sunday of Lent

Ezekiel 37:12-14
Psalm 129: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
Romans 8:8-11
John 11:1-45


The Divine and Mystic Gospel

Over the past three Sundays of Lent, the Church has opened for us the Gospel of Saint John, the divine and mystic Gospel, the Gospel that, on every page, shines with the brightness of Christ’s divinity. The Lenten series of Johannine gospels are directed, first of all, to the catechumens, men and women in the last stages of preparation for the mysteries of initiation that will be celebrated in the night of Pascha. The same Gospels are addressed to the penitents, men and women who, having fallen, seek to rise again, washed in the pure water of the Spirit, and infused anew with the life-giving Blood of the Lamb. The Lenten liturgy is profitable to us only insofar as we identify inwardly with the catechumens and penitents, only insofar as we walk with them towards the mysteries of regeneration and reconciliation that ever flow from the Passion and Resurrection of Christ.

Fulget Crucis Mysterium

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Our Lady Saint Mary, Saint John the Beloved Disciple,
and the Wounded Side of Christ


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With First Vespers of the Fifth Sunday of Lent we enter into the last phase of preparation for the Pasch of the Lord: Passiontide. The Church places on our lips the great hymn of Christ’s Cross and Passion, and so we sing: fulget Crucis mysterium, “the mystery of the Cross shines out.” The second to the last verse of this age-old hymn is a confession of hope, hope in the power of the Cross:

O Cross, all hail! Sole hope, abide
With us now in this Passiontide:
New grace in loving hearts implant
And pardon to the guilty grant!

The station today is at Saint Peter’s Basilica. The solemnity of this Fifth Sunday of Lent required that the faithful of Rome assemble at the tomb of Saint Peter. The purple veils that, during these last two weeks before Pascha, will hide our sacred images, recall the great veil that in ancient times was stretched across the whole sanctuary, obliging the faithful to go by faith and longing into the inner sanctuary, the invisible one, where Christ is Victim, Altar and Priest.

I Will Not Be Forgetful of Thee

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Wednesday Within the Fourth Week of Lent

Isaiah 49:8-15
John 5:17-30

An Inward Quickening

In every single line of today's prophecy from Isaiah, there is a grace of consolation that penetrates the soul. One reads Isaiah 49:8-13 — or hears it read — and straightaway one experiences its effect: an inward quickening of hope, of confidence, and of thanksgiving.

God's Word is efficacious. The Word of God accomplishes what it announces, so often as we receive it with humility and with faith. The Word of God is a sacramental infusion of divine grace. Hold the Word in your heart, and it will change your life.

If you have ever felt forgotten by God or insignificant in His sight, ponder today's First Reading (Isaiah 49:8-16). Savour the last verse given in the Lectionary and the one that follows it in the Bible. I prefer Monsignor Knox's translation, and so give it here.

I Will Bring Thee Aid

Thus says the Lord, Here is a time of pardon, when prayer of thine shall be answered, a day of salvation when I will bring thee aid.
I have kept thee in readiness, to make, by thy means, a covenant with my people.
Thine to revive a ruined country, to parcel out forfeited lands anew,
men that are bound in darkness restoring to freedom and to the light.

Theirs Is a Merciful Shepherd

There shall be pasture for my flock by the wayside, feeding grounds they shall have on al the barren uplands;
they will hunger and thirst no more, noonday heat nor sun overpower them;
theirs is a merciful shepherd, that will lead them to welling fountains and give them drink.
And I will turn all these mountains of mine into a highroad for you;
safe through the uplands my path shall lead.
See how they come from far away!
Exiles from north and west, exiles from the south country return.
Ring out, heaven, with praise;
let earth keep holiday, and its mountains echo that praise again;
the Lord brings consolation to his people, takes pity on their need.

Before My Eyes Continually

Did Sion complain, the Lord has forsaken me, my own Master gives me never a thought?
What, can a woman forget her child that is unweaned, pity no longer the son she bore in her womb? Let her forget; I will not be forgetful of thee.
Why, I have cut thy image on the palms of my hands;
those walls of thine dwell before my eyes continually.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

Donations for Silverstream Priory

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